Bourbon and Branch – San Francisco, CA


Bourbon and Branch
501 Jones Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 931-7292

“No photo’s allowed”.  Oops. Sorry.

While I am a big fan of history, I’ve never really believed that all things used to be better in the good old days. While nostalgia will often make the past seem much more appealing than it actually was, I will admit that occasionally, they did things better. People took more time and care in their work – more craftsmanship. One place where that still holds true is Bourbon and Branch.

Bourbon and Branch is an old Speakeasy that actually operated as “The Ipswitch – A Beverage Parlor” from 1921 to 1923.  The current incarnation is a throw back to those good old days. From a password required to get in (easily found on the web), to secret entrances to escape the prohibition agents in case they ever raided, they’ve done their best to recreate the ambiance and atmosphere of the 20′s and 30′s. Rules from no cell phones to no standing at the bar, you definitely get a feel for the period.

What they haven’t left in the 20′s is the art of mixology. Starting with very carefully selected spirits and ingredients, carefully composed to provide the best cocktails possible, they are artists and masters at blending and mixing drinks. They certainly take their time with each element, from hand juicing, straining, muddling, chilling, pouring, every aspect of creating your cocktail is deliberate and intentional.

Bourbon and Branch is functionally divided into two rooms. There is the main bar, where food is also served. This requires a reservation, usually several days in advance. There is also the library, a secret room in the back that is accessible via password only. There are no reservations for the library – they are open from 6pm till 2am Wednesday to Saturday.

One aspect of the period they’ve definitely captured is the pace. Everything moves slowly. The lineup. The service. It’s a nice change from your crowded, frenetic bar, where it’s a challenge to get to the front, a challenge to be heard, and a challenge to get a decent drink. People queue up and patiently wait. Two bartenders take orders, make recommendations, and provide patrons with their choice of spirit and cocktail.

The quality exists from top to bottom. Since I cannot say it any better, I’ll let them tell it in their own words (from the bourbon and branch website):

“Every morning our bartenders forage through the local Farmers Markets in search of the freshest and most unusual produce in anticipation of the evenings Market Fresh Cocktails. We squeeze all of our juices by hand, and we don’t use any juice, puree, or extract that we haven’t made ourselves. All of our mixers (tonic, soda etc.) come from individual bottles; drinks are better that way.”

While Bourbon and Branch offer five different categories of cocktails, the creativity is evident in all of their creations. They maintain a blog where they post new creations and information on what they are working on. Examples of their work (taken from the Bourbon and Branch blog) include:

Citizen Cane

Cachaca, Apricot Liqueur, Pineapple Gomme Syrup, Lime Juice, Peach Bitters

The Sceptre

Scotch, Averna, Pumpkin Spice Honey Syrup, Old Fashioned Bitters

Great atmosphere, secret passages, fresh ingredients, patience, precision, and creativity – all of these ingredients make Bourbon and Branch a perfect place to enjoy a cocktail. For all you “good ol days” people, this is the place for you. Just remember though, that while the care, quality, and attention to detail may have been more prevalent in the 20′s, you also weren’t legally allowed to drink either. I’m pretty happy with the 2010 version of Bourbon and Branch. Doesn’t take a master bartender to know that cocktails and prison time aren’t a good mix.

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2 thoughts on “Bourbon and Branch – San Francisco, CA

  1. Fascinating to hear of such places existing, albeit modern day re-creations of them. I suppose its fitting with the wild and reckless image of old time SF that I have in my mind. I remember seeing a documentary on Chicago that investigated all the old hidden places under the streets that were like this, back in the Prohibition days. Didn’t picture you as much of a cocktail kind of guy, but when its done “right”, doesn’t hurt to partake. :)

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